Live From SXSW 2017: Festival Highlights

Another year, another SXSW. Some conferences are memorable, others fade from view quickly. The jury is still out on this edition, though it did feature a rare public appearance by Terrence Malick, so all bets are off.

James Whatley and Laurie Close were on the ground in Austin last week and presented their key takeaways on the latest Social on Us Webinar. Here’s what they found:

Chatbot overload – There were over 20 talks on chatbots across a wide range of implications—the evolution of chatbots, conversation analysis, conversational commerce, and even bots as humans. Many see chatbots as a replacement for apps, a place where users can go to get information and answers more quickly and without the need to download anything or create an account. And some see it as the next iteration of Googling something. But if bots are just a replacement for doing a Google search, why build them? What can a bot do or provide that a Google search can’t? What type of experience does it provide? These and more questions are what brands and developers need to keep an eye on in the future, one where humans will be increasingly communicating in depth with artificial intelligence.

VR and 360 Video – They’re not the same thing, but they’re often closely linked together. Either way, both had a large presence at SXSW this year. It seemed as though nearly every other stand had a VR experience. But not all were useful or provided real value. And that’s the question for brands and companies who want to latch onto VR: how is it helping you? Immersive video content is very hard to do. Even 360 video, which is sort of blowing up and is so easily accessible. How do you ensure users aren’t missing what’s behind them or out of their current view? How do you guide them? Whether it’s VR or 360 video, content creators will have to keep in mind the relative inexperience of their viewers, and make sure they take steps to guide their audience along or retrain them altogether. This will be important for many reasons, but perhaps most so because…

It’s a Video First World – Video is everywhere. Consumption is changing, and demand for video has shot through the roof. In the world of brand as publisher, getting video right is more important than ever. And what drives live viewership? Interactivity. And there’s been a bit of a return of sorts when it comes to longform video, with Vox and Vice as shining examples of content brands with an effective strategy. As far at platforms go, Facebook remains king, while Snapchat is making a push. Interestingly, who was largely absent during the week in Austin? Twitter.

Connected Home – You know how in sci-fi movies, when a character summons a holographic display screen and starts pressing imaginary buttons? Well, what if you could turn any surface—countertop, table, wall—into a tablet. The Sony Xperia Touch, on display at SXSW does just that. It’s not quite the sci-fi pop-up hologram, but it’s close. These types of in-the-house technologies are on the way, and SXSW saw lots of discussion around the smart home. Of utmost importance is security—having your home hacked, or invaded remotely, can be pretty frightening. And while not as frightening or serious, are we ready to listen to ads before our smart home devices will complete their tasks? Our current dumb homes are filled with brands, but that’s through the physical product. What happens when we allow brands actual digital real estate in our homes? Something to keep an eye on for brands and consumers alike.

The ethics of… – More and more it seems that conversations are being had about whether or not products, brands, services, algorithms, data, basically everything in the marketing, tech, and branding world, is there for good or bad. These are difficult conversations, but it’s a good sign that they’re seemingly being had more often. Ogilvy’s Chris Graves spoke at SXSW about our digital echo chambers and the algorithms that help create them. Sure, they can help a company target the right consumer and personalize an experience for them that will help the company make more money, but what, in turn, does it “hide” from that consumer? Computers are supposed to be unbiased, but the people who build and code them are biased—we all are. It’s something we have to continue to guard against. Holding brands and companies to high ethical standards can only help us create a fairer world.

To view the full presentation deck and video from James and Laurie, click here.

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